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November 07, 2023

Cherelle Parker wins to becomes Philly's 100th mayor and first woman to lead city

The Democrat and former City Councilmember is projected to win in a landslide over Republican David Oh

2023 Election Mayoral Race
Cherelle Parker Speech Source/6ABC

Philadelphia Mayor-Elect Cherelle Parker delivered a victory speech after defeating Republican David Oh in Tuesday's election. Parker will be the first woman to become mayor and is the 100th mayor in the history of Philadelphia.

Democrat Cherelle Parker was declared the winner of Philadelphia's historic mayoral election on Tuesday, becoming the city's 100th mayor and first woman to hold the office.

Parker defeated Republican David Oh in a race she was expected to win comfortably. The AP called the race just after 8:30 p.m. with about 21% of the vote counted. Parker held a wide margin with about 82.5% of the vote. Oh had about 17.4%. All results are unofficial until certified by election officials. 

2023 ELECTION RESULTS: Working Families Party candidates on cusp of winning Philly City Council's at-large seats over Republicans | Brian O'Neill wins 12th term on Philadelphia City Council, Pa.'s statewide judicial races go to Democrats

During her victory speech Tuesday night, Parker spoke about the importance of collaborative government, civic unity and bringing order to the city. She said her own story of overcoming hardships is a lesson she wants to instill in Philadelphians and she urged the city to defy naysayers who doubt in the promise of starting new chapters. 

"We're going to make sure that we put people on a path to self-sufficiency," Parker said. "You heard me talk about making our public health and safety our number one priority ... I don't apologize about that. We are going to use every legal tool that is in the tool book to make this city safe."

Parker's victory comes at a significant moment for Philadelphia. Major topics on the city's agenda include selecting a new police commissioner, addressing persistent problems with violent crime and deciding whether to move forward with major plans like the Philadelphia 76ers' proposed arena in Center City. Parker also will need to bring forth new strategies to confront the educational and economic disparities that have kept Philadelphia one of the nation's poorest big cities. 

"Who is Cherelle Parker going to be?" the mayor-elect asked rhetorically. "A get-it-done Philadelphian, a get-it-done mayor who won't ever forget her deep roots ... I'm Philly-born, I'm Philly-bred and I'll be a Philadelphian until I'm dead."

Parker, 50, won the Democratic nomination in May's primary by defeating a crowded field of candidates for the chance to succeed term-limited Mayor Jim Kenney. She ran as a moderate Democrat, earning 32.6% of the vote in May's low-turnout primary, which was similar to Tuesday's turnout. She beat out her closest competitors, former City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart and former City Councilmember Helen Gym, both more progressive candidates, by about 10% each. Oh had ran unopposed in the Republican primary. 

”I don’t care where people were in the primary election, now is the time for us to be focused on what I’m calling one Philadelphia — a united city," Parker said earlier Tuesday at an annual Election Day luncheon in North Philadelphia.

Parker said she had received a congratulatory call from President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris after she was declared Tuesday's winner. She told them she will be counting on them for federal support to help Philadelphia as she takes office next year. 

Parker and Oh, two former colleagues on City Council, each had a chance to make history with a victory on Tuesday night. Oh would have been the first Asian-American to occupy the top job at City Hall had he won. Parker noted she's not only the first woman to be elected mayor, but the first single mother as well. Her son and ex-husband stood beside her Tuesday night along with other local officials and supporters. 

"One Philly!" Parker told her supporters in a call-and-response as she wrapped up her speech. "We can do it together, y'all."

Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by about 7-to-1 in Philadelphia. That mades Parker the prohibitive favorite on Tuesday night. A Republican hasn't won a mayoral election in the city since 1947, when Bernard Samuel claimed victory in his second and final reelection, and the last Republican mayoral candidate to receive more than 40%. of the vote was Sam Katz who lost to John Street in 2003. In the prior mayor's race in 1999, Katz came even closer to beating Street, collecting 49% of the vote.

Before running for mayor, Parker served two terms on City Council, representing the Ninth District in West Philadelphia. She also spent a decade as a state representative for the 200th District, which covers most of Northwest Philly, where she was raised by her grandparents in Mount Airy. 

Parker campaigned on uplifting Philadelphia's struggling communities by addressing persistent problems with gun violence, neighborhood blight, underperforming schools and a lack of economic opportunity. She touted her experience in state government as an important lever for bringing resources and results to Philadelphia. 

To fight crime and improve neighborhood safety, Parker has called for restoring a model of community policing that places more foot and bike patrol officers on city streets. She also has said that fixing the city's sanitation and maintenance problems — from litter to broken streetlights — will solve some of the underlying issues that make city neighborhoods more vulnerable to crime.

Parker also has suggested revisiting controversial stop-and-frisk policies, which fell out of favor in many police departments due to concerns about racial bias. She advocates for the use of Terry stops, which allow officers to briefly detain and pat down people for weapons if they have reasonable suspicion someone is armed and likely to commit a crime.

While on City Council, Parker introduced the 2020 ballot measure that voters approved to ban police from using illegal stop-and-frisk tactics. As homicides, shootings and carjackings increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker came to view Terry stops as a constitutional form of deterrence that can protect communities if supported by good policy. 

“Any tool in government that is misused and/or abused gives the public just cause to not trust,” Parker said during an October town hall event with Oh. “That’s why community policing is so essential."

Other ideas Parker has discussed during her campaign include testing a model for year-round schooling, offering free business training for entrepreneurs, and stepping up intervention in Kensington to address that neighborhood's crisis of drug addiction and homelessness.

Oh, 63, is an attorney, U.S. Army veteran and former at-large city councilmember who served three terms before resigning to run for mayor. His emergence in city politics was built on broad coalitions that covered large parts of Philadelphia, unlike other Republicans who historically have drawn support from more conservative areas in South Philly and the Northeast. Oh campaigned as a centrist with crossover appeal, highlighting his own journey as a Korean-American as a point of commonality with immigrant communities in the city. 

Like Parker, Oh said crime and public safety are the most important issues in Philadelphia. Instead of encouraging stop-and-frisk policing, Oh called for concentrated patrols in "hot spots" and more emphasis on enforcing existing laws. He also sought to reform criminal justice policies around bail determinations and sentencing to keep dangerous people off the street.

"Real public safety comes from the cooperation of the community and the police — the community that wants to be policed," Oh said during his lone candidate forum with Parker last month. "They want their rights to be protected, not violated." 

Oh also campaigned for increased transparency in schools and educational reforms that promote accountability among parents and teachers. He wants to decrease taxes and promote job growth by expanding business opportunities and making Philadelphia a more attractive place to invest. 

Parker drew heavy support from Philadelphia's labor unions and from communities of color that helped her rise above the other Democratic candidates in May's primary. 

Surrounded by her supporters before the polls closed on Tuesday, Parker said public service is her calling and gave credit to the diverse community that helped her reach this historic moment. 

"I'm only here today because I stand on the shoulders of men and women in a village that looks like the United Nations — that decided they would give me the best of everything that they could so that I could one day realize what my purpose would be in life," Parker said. "I learned that my purpose was serving."